Uvalde school board fires school police chief Pete Arredondo

UVALDE, Texas — Pete Arredondo, the embattled school police chief in Uvalde, Texas, became the first officer to lose his job over the slow response by hundreds of heavily armed law enforcement personnel during the May mass shooting that left 21 people dead.

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The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District unanimously decided to fire Arredondo three months to the day after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, the Texas Tribune reported. It also comes less than two weeks before the new school year begins in the southern Texas city.

Arredondo did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. His attorney, George Hyde, defended the chief’s response in a critical and defiant letter moments before the school board met, according to The Associated Press.

Hyde said Arredondo was a “courageous officer” who should be “celebrated for the lives saved, instead of vilified for those they couldn’t reach in time.”

In the 17-page letter, Hyde cited security concerns and accused the district of denying Arredondo the right to carry a weapon, according to the AP.

Arredondo has been on unpaid administrative leave since June 22, KENS-TV reported. Earlier in July, Arredondo resigned from his position on the Uvalde City Council.

Officials have twice before scheduled meetings to discuss terminating Arredondo. In late July, the school board announced a special meeting to debate the potential firing, though it was delayed at the request of the police chief’s attorney. A subsequent meeting scheduled for Aug. 4 was later delayed due to “a scheduling conflict,” CNN reported.

Last month, school district Superintendent Hal Harrell recommended the firing of Arredondo amid criticism of his response to the deadly May 24 shooting.

Uvalde Police Department Lt. Mariano Pargas, who was the city’s acting police chief on the day of the shooting, is believed to be the only other officer placed on leave for his actions during the shooting, according to the AP.

Arredondo was one of the first officers to respond to reports of the shooting, although he failed to take the lead during the law enforcement response, according to a report issued last month by a Texas House committee. The panel was tasked with investigating the deadliest school shooting in the state’s history. The committee noted in its report that there were no “villains” found during its investigation, attributing issues with the response instead to “systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making.”

Surveillance footage from the scene showed officers in a hallway of the school minutes after the gunman arrived, although they did not confront the shooter for more than an hour. Several investigations into the law enforcement response remain ongoing.

The report by the Texas House committee stated that Arredondo did not consider himself to be the on-scene commander in charge and that his priority was to protect the children in other classrooms. The report said his decision was a “terrible, tragic mistake.”

“Our thought was, ‘If he comes out, you know, you eliminate the threat,’ correct?” Arredondo told the committee, according to the report, the AP reported. “And just the thought of other children being in other classrooms, my thought was, ‘We can’t let him come back out. If he comes back out, we take him out, or we eliminate the threat.’”

The report has also found that officers failed to follow their active shooter training and did not prioritize the safety of the students and teachers over their own.

Arredondo, who had won a seat on the Uvalde City Council, was sworn in during a private ceremony the week after the deadly shooting, KSAT-TV reported. He skipped the first two city council meetings.

Arredondo resigned his post in early July.